According to the latest count, there are now 29 (!) different versions the Obama administration offered for the Osama Bin Laden raid. This includes the hilarious tidbit that the video feed was actually not working at the time of the raid, so that the iconic picture of senior officials watching the feed might very well be staged.
So why do politicians lie? They should know that you can't keep secrets in politics - in the political pressure cooker, someone will always benefit from leaking ("how to leak info" is probably for another blog post). The answer why politicians lie might be revealed in a recent study from the University of Western Australia: it seems that, even when people know that an earlier version of the "truth" is wrong, some of the erroneous information still lingers. This result shows that “even if you understand, remember and believe the retractions of the earlier version, this misinformation will still affect your inferences,” says Western Australia psychologist Ullrich Ecker, an author of the study.
So: politicians lie because they sense that, even though we find out later that the iinformation was incorrect, something about that first version is just so very powerful. People dealing with media should attach a post it to their computer saying: "you only have one chance to get it right". Misinformation about your brand will spread like wildfire, and it will be very hard to retract once it gets caught up in the churnalism engines of the newsrooms.
Postscript: sometimes, of course, even though journalists know the information is not correct, they will use it regardless, because it can attract clicks. See the "BBC turns its back on year of Our Lord" story that the Daily Mail in the UK broke last week. In the story, the BBC was accused of being overly politically correct by refusing to use the Christian way of counting time like "BC" (Before Christ) and instead choosing to use ("BCE", before the common era). In the story itself (in the very last paragraph), it was explained that the BBC does NOT in fact prohibit the use of "BC" and "AD" (anno domini), but that journalists can choose what they want to use:
The BBC said last night: 'The BBC has not issued editorial guidance on the date systems. Both AD and BC, and CE and BCE are widely accepted date systems and the decision on which term to use lies with individual production and editorial teams.'
In journalism, this falls under the accepted practice of: "You shouldn't check a story to death." Another reason to keep a close watch over what's being blogged, tweeted and Facebooked about your brand.